File picture: Pexels
File picture: Pexels

How drones can be used in fight against Covid-19

By Yasmine Jacobs Time of article published Apr 17, 2020

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Cape Town - As the world tackles the Covid-19 pandemic, we see an increase in the use of technologies to improve the response and social resilience. 

Drones are being used to transport medical samples, monitor compliance with social distancing orders as well as transport consumer goods.

During a webinar co-hosted by the World Economic Forum and the World Bank, experts took to the virtual stage to explain how drones can be used as part of the Covid-19 response. They also discussed post-pandemic resilience in Africa. 

Panelists included Minister of Basic and Secondary Education in Sierra Leone David Moinina Sengeh, Lifebank Nigeria CEO, Temie Giwa-Tubosun, General Manager of Zipline Ghana Daniel Marfo and Edward Anderson, the senior Digital Development and Resilience Specialist at World Bank Group.

The discussion was moderated by Harrison Wolf, Aerospace and Drones Lead, World Economic Forum.

Sengeh said that Sierra Leone, drones are currently used to understand compliance. 

"We worked with local partners that went out to communities to fly drones to get a better understanding of society's compliance to the lockdown. We also use drones to distribute goods. We want to use the technology to monitor the borders in future. We have many people illegally crossing the borders. Our focus is on compliance and how the policies are working."

Giwa-Tubosun said Lifebank's main aim is to deliver medical supplies in Nigeria. 

"The first thing we believe deeply in is innovation. We believe in using tools available to solve problems in healthcare. The second thing we care about is impact. We exist to save people's lives. The third thing what is critical is cost effectiveness and profitability. In a post-Covid world, it's critical. Many countries in Africa will have recession and due to that, there will be less resources. Drone technology will be more important in a post-Covid world in terms of cost effectiveness and reducing human-to-human contact."

General manager of Zipline in Ghana, Daniel Marfo, said drone logistics play a key part in the fight against Covid-19.

Zipline is a healthcare logistics company that uses drones to deliver medical products to hundreds of health facilities across Ghana and Rwanda.

"We have been focusing on a number of areas. This includes social distancing, With drones, we deliver treatment, reducing contact and ensuring that we can provide protective clothing to healthcare workers. Most countries never properly prepared for Covid-19, so where there are suspected cases, we deliver PPEs so they can take care of the patients. As effective today, we will deliver test samples. It is a huge milestone to use drones to deliver test samples. We make sure the test samples get to labs in under an hour."

Edward Anderson from the World Bank Group said there are opportunities to use drones to support short to long term activities. 

"The way the leadership and World Bank sees it is that it is shock and economic disruption. The world will not be the same and neither should it. We see opportunities to use drones to support short terms, medium and long term activities. Applications and mapping using drones can be used to tackle the pandemic." Anderson added that border security as well as food security should be kept in mind during these difficult times.

Sengeh said in the time of a pandemic, the concept of surveillance is not a bad thing.

"In general, surveillance is a negative word. But in healthcare, it's not. These innovations should not be in conflict with securities and human rights. We have a small window period to use local startups and innovation in Africa.


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